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Inserts / Messages
- Basic Education
- Interesting Articles
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- Questions about Iman
- Healthy Living
A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim
|Spread of Islam:
A continuation of missionary work in Africa
In the West of Africa
In the West of Africa two orders have been especially instrumental in the spread of Islam, the Qadiriyyah and the Tijaniyyah. The former, the most widespread of the religious orders of Islam, was founded in the twelfth century by Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, said to be the most popular and most universally revered of all the saints of Islam,—and was introduced into Western Africa in the fifteenth century, by emigrants from Tuat, one of the oases in the western half of the Sahara; they made Walata the first center of their organization, but later on their descendants were driven away from this town, and took refuge in Timbuktu, further to the east. In the beginning of the nineteenth century the great spiritual revival that was so profoundly influencing the Muslim world, stirred up the Qadiriyyah of the Sahara and the Western Sudan to renewed life and energy, and before long, learned theologians or small colonies of persons affiliated to the order were to be found scattered throughout the Western Sudan from the Senegal to the mouth of the Niger. The chief centers of their missionary organization are in Kanka, Timbo (Futah-Jallon) and Musardu (in the Mandingo country).
- These initiates formed centers of Islamic influence in the midst of a pagan population, among whom they received a welcome as public scribes, legists, writers of amulets, and schoolmasters : gradually they would acquire influence over their new surroundings, and isolated cases of conversion would soon grow into a little band of converts, the most promising of whom would often be sent to complete their studies at the chief centers of the order, or even to the schools of Kairwan or Tripoli, or to the universities of Fez and al-Azhar in Cairo.
- Here they might remain for several years, until they had perfected their theological studies, and would then return to their native place, fully equipped for the work of spreading the faith among their fellow-countrymen.
- In this way a leaven has been introduced into the midst of fetish-worshippers and idolaters, which has gradually spread the faith of Islam surely and steadily, though by almost imperceptible degrees.
- Up to the middle of the nineteenth century most of the schools in the Sudan were founded and conducted by teachers trained under the auspices of the Qadiriyyah and their organization provided for a regular and continuous system of propaganda among the heathen tribes.
- The missionary work of this order has been entirely of a peaceful character, and has relied wholly on personal example and precept, on the influence of the teacher over his pupils, and on the spread of education. In this way the Qadiriyyah missionaries of the Sudan have shown themselves true to the principles of their founder and the universal tradition of their order.
For the guiding principles that governed the life of Abd al-Qadir were love of his neighbor and toleration: though kings and men of wealth showered their gifts upon him, his boundless charity kept him always poor, and in none of his books or precepts are to be found any expressions of ill-will or enmity towards the Christians; whenever he spoke of the people of the Book, it was only to express his sorrow for their religious errors, and to pray that God might enlighten them. This tolerant attitude he bequeathed as a legacy to his disciples, and it has been a striking characteristic of his followers in all ages.
The Tijaniyyah, belonging to an order founded in Algiers towards the end of the eighteenth century, have, since their establishment in the Sudan about the middle of the nineteenth century, pursued the same missionary methods as the Qadiriyyah, and their numerous schools have contributed largely to the propagation of the faith.
But unlike the Qadiriyyah, they have not refrained from appealing to the sword to assist in the furtherance of their scheme of conversion, and, unfortunately for a true estimate of the missionary work of Islam in Western Africa, the fame of their Jihads or religious wars has thrown into the shade the successes of the peaceful propagandist, though the labors of the latter have been more effectual towards the spread of Islam than the creation of petty, short-lived dynasties.
The records of campaigns, especially when they have interfered with the commercial projects or schemes of conquest of the white men, have naturally attracted the attention of Europeans more than the unobtrusive labors of the Muslim preacher and schoolmaster.
But the history of such movements possesses this importance, that—as has often happened in the case of Christian missions also—conquest has opened out new fields for missionary activity, and forcibly impressed on the minds of the faithful the existence of large tracts of country whose inhabitants still remained unconverted.
- The first of these militant propagandist movements on the part of the members of the Tijaniyyah order owes its inception to al-Ḥajj Omar, who had been initiated into this order by a leader of the sect whose acquaintance he made in Mecca.
- He was born in 1797, near Podor on the Lower Senegal, and appears to have been a man of considerable endowments and personal influence, and of a commanding presence. He was the son of a marabout and received a careful religious education; he was already famed for his learning and piety when he set out on the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1827.
- He did not return to his own country until 1833, when he commenced an active propaganda of the teaching of the Tijaniyyah order, fiercely attacking his co-religionists for their ignorance and their lukewarmness, especially the adepts of the Qadiriyyah order, whose toleration particularly excited his wrath.
- He traversed the Central Sudan, winning many adherents and receiving honor as a new prophet, until about 1841 he reached Futah-Jallon, where he armed his followers and commenced a series of proselytizing expeditions against those tribes that still remained pagan about the Upper Niger and the Senegal. It was in one of these expeditions that he met his death in 1865. His son, Aḥmadu ShayKhu, succeeded in holding together the various provinces of his fathers kingdom for a few years only; internal conflicts and the advance of the French broke up the Tijaniyyah empire, and their territories passed under the rule of France.
Some mention has already been made of the introduction of Islam into this part of Africa. The seed planted here by Abd Allah b. Yasin and his companions, was fructified by continual contact with Muslim merchants and teachers, and with the Arabs of the oasis of al-Ḥawḍ and others. A traveler of the fifteenth century tells how the Arabs strove to teach the Negro chiefs the law of Muhammad, pointing out how shameful a thing it was for them, being chiefs, to live without any of God’s laws, and to do as the base folk did who lived without any law at all. From which it would appear that these early missionaries took advantage of the imposing character of the Muslim religion and constitution to impress the minds of these uncivilized savages.
We have ampler details of a more recent movement of the same kind, which had been set on foot in the south of Senegambia by a Mandingo, named Ṣamudu, commonly known by the name Samory, a pagan soldier of fortune born about 1846, who became a Muslim early in the course of his career and founded an empire, south of Senegambia, in the country watered by the upper basin of the Niger and its tributaries.
An Arabic account of the career of Samory, written by a native chronicler, gives us some interesting details of his achievements. It begins as follows : “This is an account of the Jihad of the Imam Aḥmadu Ṣamudu, a Mandingo. . . . God conferred upon him His help continually after he began the work of visiting the idolatrous pagans, who dwell between the sea and the country of Wasulu, with a view of inviting them to follow the religion of God, which is Islam.
Know all ye who read this— that the first effort of the Imam Ṣamudu was a town named Fulindiyah. Following the Book and the Law and the Traditions, he sent messengers to the king at that town, Sindidu by name, inviting him to submit to his government, abandon the worship of idols and worship one God, the Exalted, the True, whose service is profitable to His people in this world and in the next; but they refused to submit.
Then he imposed a tribute upon them, as the Quran commands on this subject; but they persisted in their blindness and deafness.
The Imam then collected a small force of about five hundred men, brave and valiant, for the Jihad, and he fought against the town, and the Lord helped him against them and gave him the victory over them, and he pursued them with his horses until they submitted.
Nor will they return to their idolatry, for now all their children are in schools being taught the Quran, and a knowledge of religion and civilization. Praise be to God for this.”
They Opened schools in the conquered towns, established there the organization of their order, and both instructed the new converts and sought to win fresh ones.
With regard to these militant movements of Muslim propagandism, it is important to notice that it is not the military successes and territorial conquests that have most contributed to the progress of Islam in these parts; for it has been pointed out that, outside the limits of those fragments of the empire of al-Ḥajj Omar that have definitively remained in the hands of his successors, the forced conversions that he made have quickly been forgotten, and in spite of the momentary grandeur of his successes and the enthusiasm of his armies, very few traces remain of this armed propaganda.
|The real importance of these movements in the missionary history of Islam in Western Africa is the religious enthusiasm they stirred up, which exhibited itself in a widespread missionary activity of a purely peaceful character among the heathen populations.
These Jihads, rightly looked upon, are but incidents in the modern Islamic revival and are by no means characteristic of the forces and activities that have been really operative in the promulgation of Islam in Africa: indeed, unless followed up by distinctly missionary efforts they would have proved almost wholly ineffectual in the creation of a true Muslim community.
In fact, the devastating wars and cruel violence of conquerors such as al-Ḥajj Omar and Samory and especially the emissaries of the Tijaniyyah have caused the faith of Islam to be bitterly hated by the pagan tribes of the Sudan in the countries watered by the Senegal and the Niger.
Hostility to the Muslim faith has almost assumed with them the form of a national movement, but still this Muslim propaganda has spread the faith of the Prophet in many parts of Guinea and Senegambia, to which the Fulbe
Merchants from the Hausa country in their frequent trading expeditions have brought the knowledge of their religion, and have succeeded during the last and the present century in winning large numbers of converts.
Especially noteworthy is the activity of those Qadiriyyah preachers and Muslim traders who have won fresh converts to their faith since the French occupation has brought peace to the country; this peaceful penetration has been facilitated in the French Sudan, as in other parts of Africa that have recently come under the sway of European powers, by the consideration shown by French officials to the educated classes, who are of course all Muslims, and by the open contempt with which the degraded habits and superstitions of the pagan fetish-worshippers are regarded.
But the proselytizing work of the order that is now to be described has never in any way been connected with violence or war and has employed in the service of religion only the arts of peace and persuasion.
The Sanusiyyah sect
In 1837 a religious society was founded by an Algerian jurisconsult, named Sidi Muhammad b. Ali al-Sanusi, with the object of reforming Islam and spreading the faith; before his death in 1859, he had succeeded in establishing, by the sheer force of his genius and without the shedding of blood, a theocratic state, to which his followers render devoted allegiance and the limits of which are every day being extended by his successors.
The members of this sect are bound by rigid rules to carry out to the full the precepts of the Quran in accordance with the most strictly monotheistic principles, whereby worship is to be given to God alone, and prayers to saints and pilgrimages to their tombs are absolutely interdicted.
They must abstain from coffee and tobacco, avoid all intercourse with Jews or Christians, contribute a certain portion of their income to the funds of the society, if they do not give themselves up entirely to its service, and devote all their energies to the advancement of Islam, resisting at the same time any concessions to European influences.
This sect is spread over the whole of North Africa, having religious houses scattered about the country from Egypt to Morocco, and far into the interior, in the oases of the Sahara and the Sudan.
The center of its organization was in the oasis of Jaghabub in the Libyan desert between Egypt and Tripoli, where every year hundreds of missionaries were trained and sent out as preachers of Islam to all parts of northern Africa. It is to the religious house in this village that all the branch establishments (said to be 121 in number) looked for counsel and instruction in all matters concerning the management and extension of this vast theocracy, which embraced in a marvelous organization thousands of persons of numerous races and nations, otherwise separated from one another by vast differences of geographical situation and worldly interests.
For the success that has been achieved by the zealous and energetic emissaries of this association is enormous ; convents of the order are to be found not only all over the north of Africa from Egypt to Morocco, throughout the Sudan, in Senegambia and Somaliland, but members of the order are to be found also in Arabia, Mesopotamia and the islands of the Malay Archipelago.
Though primarily a movement of reform in the midst of Islam itself, the Sanusiyyah sect is also actively proselytizing, and several African tribes that were previously pagan or merely nominally Muslim, have since the advent of the emissaries of this sect in their midst, become zealous adherents of the faith of the Prophet. Thus, for example, the Sanusi missionaries labored to convert that portion of the Baele (a tribe inhabiting the hill country of Ennedi, E. of Borku) which was still heathen, and communicated their own religious zeal to such other sections of the tribe as had only a very superficial knowledge of Islam, and were Muslim only in name; the Tedas of Tu or Tibesti, in the Sahara, S. of Fezzan, who were likewise Muslims only in name when the Sanusiyyah came among them, also bear witness to the success of their efforts.
The missionaries of this sect also carry on an active propaganda in the Galla country and fresh workers are sent thither every year from Harar, where the Sanusiyyah are very strong and include among their numbers all the chiefs in the court of the Amir almost without exception.
In the furtherance of their proselytizing efforts these missionaries open schools, form settlements in the oases of the desert, and — noticeably in the case of the Wadai — they have gained large accessions to their numbers by the purchase of slaves, who have been educated at Jaghabub and when deemed sufficiently well instructed in the tenets of the sect, enfranchised and then sent back to their native country to convert their brethren. It would appear, however, that the influence of this order is now on the decline.
Slight as these records are of the missionary labors of the Muslims among the pagan tribes of the Sudan, they are of importance in view of the general dearth of information regarding the spread of Islam in this part of Africa. But while documentary evidence is wanting, the Muslim communities dwelling in the midst of fetish-worshippers and idolaters, as representatives of a higher faith and civilization, are a living testimony to the proselytizing labors of the Muslim missionaries, and (especially on. the south-western borderland of Islamic influence) present a striking contrast to the pagan tribes demoralized by the European gin traffic.
This contrast has been well indicated by a modern traveler, in speaking of the degraded condition of the tribes of the Lower Niger : “In steaming up the river (i. e. the Niger), I saw little in the first 200 miles to alter my views, for there luxuriated in congenial union fetishism, cannibalism and the gin trade.
But as I left behind me the low-lying coast region, and found myself near the southern boundary of what is called the Central Sudan, I observed an ever-increasing improvement in the appearance of the character of the native; cannibalism disappeared, fetishism followed in its wake, the gin trade largely disappeared, while on the other hand, clothes became more voluminous and decent, cleanliness the rule, while their outward more dignified bearing still further betokened a moral regeneration.
Everything indicated a leavening of some higher element, an element that was clearly taking a deep hold on the negro nature and making him a new man. That element you will perhaps be surprised to learn is Islam.
On passing Lokoja at the confluence of the Benue with the Niger, I left behind me the missionary outposts of Islam, and entering the Central Sudan, I found myself in a comparatively well-governed empire, teeming with a busy populace of keen traders, expert manufacturers of cloth, brass work and leather; a people, in fact, who have made enormous advances towards civilization,”
In order to form a just estimate of the missionary activity of Islam in Nigritia. it must be borne in mind that, while on the coast and along the southern boundary of the sphere of Islamic influence, the Muslim missionary is the pioneer of his religion, there is still left behind him a vast field for Muslim propaganda in the inland countries that stretch away to the north and the east, though it is long since Islam took firm root in this soil. Some sections of the Funj, the predominant Negro race of Sennaar, are partly Muslim and partly heathen, and Muslim merchants from Nubia are attempting the conversion of the latter.
The pagan tribe of the Jukun, whose once powerful kingdom disappeared before the victorious development of the Fulbe, has withstood the advancing influence of Islam, though the foreign minister of their king has always been a Muslim and colonies of Hausas and other Muslims have settled among them; but these Muslim settlers do not succeed in making any converts from among the Jukun, whose traditions of their past greatness make them cling to the national faith whose spiritual headship is vested in their king.
The West Coast
The West Coast is another field for Muslim missionary enterprise where Islam finds itself confronted with a vast population still unconverted, in spite of the progress it has made on the Guinea Coast, in Sierra Leone and Liberia, in which last there are more Muslims than heathen.
One of the earliest notices of Muslim missionary activity in the neighborhood of Sierra Leone is to be found in a petition for the dissolution of the Sierra Leone Company, ordered to be printed by the House of Commons, on the 25th May, 1802:
|“Not more than seventy years ago, a small number of Muslims established themselves in a country about forty miles to the northward of Sierra Leone, called from them the Mandingo Country.
As is the practice of the professare of that religion they formed schools, in which the Arabic language and the doctrines of Muhammad were taught, and the customs of Muslims, particularly that of not selling any of their own religion as slaves, were adopted. Laws founded on the Quran were introduced.
Those practices which chiefly contribute to depopulate the coast were eradicated, and in spite of many intestine convulsions, a great comparative degree of civilization, union and security were introduced.
Population, in consequence, rapidly increased and the whole power of that part of the country in which they are settled has gradually fallen into their hands.
Those who have been taught in their schools are succeeding to wealth and power in the neighboring countries, and carry with them a considerable portion of their religion and laws.
Other chiefs are adopting the name assumed by these Muslims, on account of the respect which attends it; and the religion of Islam seems likely to diffuse itself peaceably over the whole district in which the colony is situated, carrying with it those advantages which seem ever to have attended its victory over Negro superstition.”
In the Mendi country, about one hundred miles south of Sierra Leone, Islam appears to have found an entrance only in the present century, but to be now making steady progress. “The propagandism is not conducted by any special order of priests set apart for the purpose, but every Muslim is an active missionary.
Some half a dozen of them, more or less, meeting in a town, where they intend to reside for any length of time, soon run up a mosque and begin work. They first approach the chief of the town and obtain his consent to their intended act, and perhaps his promise to become an adherent.
They teach him their prayers in Arabic, or as much as he can, or cares to, commit to memory. They put him through the forms and ceremonies used in praying, forbid him the use of alcoholic beverages—a restriction as often observed as not—and lo! the man is a convert.”
On the Guinea Coast, Muslim influences are spread chiefly by Hausa traders who are to be found in all the commercial towns on this coast; whenever they form a settlement, they at once build a mosque and by their devout behavior, and their superior culture, they impress the heathen inhabitants; whole tribes of fetish-worshippers pass over to Islam as the result of their imitation of what they recognize to be a higher civilization than their own, without any particular efforts being necessary for persuading them.
- In Ashanti there was a nucleus of a Muslim population to be found as early as 1750 and the missionaries of Islam have labored there ever since with slow but sure success, as they find a ready welcome in the country and have gained for themselves considerable influence at the court; by means of their schools they get a hold on the minds of the younger generation, and there are said to be significant signs that Islam will become the predominant religion in Ashanti, as already many of the chiefs have adopted it.
- In Dahomey and the Gold Coast, Islam is daily making fresh progress, and even when the heathen chieftains do not themselves embrace it, they very frequently allow themselves to come under the influence of its missionaries, who know how to take advantage of this ascendancy in their labors among the common people.
- Dahomey and Ashanti are the most important kingdoms in this part of the continent that are still subject to pagan rulers, and their conversion is said to be a question of a short time only.
- In Lagos there are well-nigh 10,000 Muslims, and all the trading stations of the West Coast include in their populations numbers of Muslims belonging to the superior Negro tribes, such as the Fulbe, the Mandingos and the Hausa.
- When these men come down to the cities of the coast, as they do in considerable numbers, either as traders or to serve as troops in the armies of the European powers, they cannot fail to impress by their bold and independent bearing the Negro of the coast-land; he sees that the believers in the Quran are everywhere respected by European governors, officials and merchants; they are not so far removed from him in race, appearance, dress or manners as to make admission into their brotherhood impossible to him, and to him too is offered a share in their privileges on condition of conversion to their faith.
|As soon as the pagan Negro, however obscure or degraded, shows himself willing to accept the teachings of the Prophet,
he is at once admitted as an equal into their society, and admission into the brotherhood of Islam is not a privilege grudgingly granted, but one freely offered by zealous and eager proselytizers.
For, from the mouth of the Senegal to Lagos, over two thousand miles, there is said to be hardly any town of importance on the seaboard in which there is not at least one mosque, with active propagandists of Islam, often working side by side with the teachers of Christianity.
On the East Coast
We must now turn to the history of the spread of Islam on the other side of the continent of Africa, the inhabitants of which were in closer proximity to the land where this faith had its birth. The facts recorded respecting the early settlements of the Arabs on the East Coast are very meager; according to an Arabic chronicle which the Portuguese found in Kiloa when that town was sacked by Don Francisco dAlmėida in 1505, the first settlers were a body of Arabs who were driven into exile because they followed the heretical teachings of a certain Zayd, a descendant of the Prophet, after whom they were called Emozaydij (probably أمة زيدية or people of Zayd).
The Zayd here referred to is probably Zayd b. Ali, a grandson of Husain and so great-grandson of Ali, the nephew of Muhammad : in the reign of the Khalifah Hisham he stirred up a revolt among the Shi’a faction, but was defeated in A.H. 122 (A.D. 740).
They succeeded gradually in extending their settlements along the coast, until the arrival of another band of fugitives who came from the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf, not far from the island of Bahrayn. These came in three ships under the leadership of seven brothers, in order to escape from the persecution of the king of Lasah, a city hard by the dwelling-place of their tribe.
The first town they built was Magadaxo, which afterwards rose to such power as to assume lordship over all the Arabs of the coast. But the original settlers, the Emozaydij, belonging as they did to a different Muslim sect, being Shi’as, while the new-comers were Sunnis, were unwilling to submit to the authority of the rulers of Magadaxo, and retired into the interior, where they became merged into the native population, intermarrying with them and adopting their manners and customs.
Magadaxo was founded about the middle of the tenth century and remained the most powerful city on this coast for more than seventy years, when the arrival of another expedition from the Persian Gulf led to the establishment of a rival settlement further south.
- The leader of this expedition was named Ali, one of the seven sons of a certain Sultan Ḥasan of Shiraz: because his mother was an Abyssinian, he was looked down upon with contempt by his brothers, whose cruel treatment of him after the death of their father, determined him to leave his native land and seek a home elsewhere.
- Accordingly, with his wife and children and a small body of followers, he set sail from the island of Ormuz, and avoiding Magadaxo, whose inhabitants belonged to a different sect, and having heard that gold was to be found on the Zanzibar coast, he pushed on to the south and founded the city of Kiloa, where he could maintain a position of independence and be free from the interference of his predecessors further north.
- In this way a number of Arab towns sprang up along the east coast from the Gulf of Aden to the Tropic of Capricorn, on the fringe of what was called by the mediaeval Arab geographers the country of the Zanj.
- Whatever efforts may have been made by the Muslim settlers to convert the Zanj, no record of them seems to have survived. There is a curious story preserved in an old collection of travels written probably in the early part of the tenth century, which represents Islam as having been introduced among one of these tribes by the king of it himself.
An Arab trading vessel was driven out of its course by a tempest in the year A.D. 922 and carried to the country of the man-eating Zanj, where the crew expected certain death.
On the contrary, the king of the place received them kindly and entertained them hospitably for several months, while they disposed of their merchandise on advantageous terms; but the merchants repaid his kindness with foul treachery, by seizing him and his attendants when they came on board to bid them farewell, and then carrying them off as slaves to Omam.
Some years later the same merchants were driven by a storm to the same port, where they were recognized by the natives who surrounded them in their canoes; giving themselves up for lost this time, they repeated for one another the prayers for the dead.
They were taken before the king, whom they discovered to their surprise and confusion to be the same they had so shamefully treated some years before.
Instead, however, of taking vengeance upon them for their treacherous conduct, he spared their lives and allowed them to sell their goods, but rejected with scorn the rich presents they offered. Before they left, one of the party ventured to ask the king to tell the story of his escape.
|He described how he had been taken as a slave to Basrah and thence to Baghdad, where he was converted to Islam and instructed in the faith;
Escaping from his master, he joined a caravan of pilgrims going to Mecca, and after performing the prescribed rites, reached Cairo and made his way up the Nile in the direction of his own country, which he reached at length after encountering many dangers and having been more than once enslaved.
Restored once again to his kingdom, he taught his people the faith of Islam; “and now I rejoice in that God hath given to me and to my people the knowledge of Islam and the true faith; to no other in the land of the Zanj hath this grace been vouchsafed; and it is because you have been the cause of my conversion, that I pardon you.
Tell the Muslims that they may come to our country, and that we—Muslims like themselves—will treat them as brothers.” 
From the same source we learn that even at this early period, this coast-land was frequented by large numbers of Arab traders, yet in spite of centuries of intercourse with the followers of Islam, the original inhabitants of this coast (with the exception of the Somalis) have been remarkably little influenced by this religion.
Even before the Portuguese conquests of the sixteenth century, what few conversions had been made, seem to have been wholly confined to the sea-border, and even after the decline of Portuguese influence in this part of the world, and the restoration of Arab rule under the Sayyids of Omam, hardly any efforts were made until the twentieth century to spread the knowledge of Islam among the tribes of the interior, with the exception of the Galla and Somali.
As a modern traveler has said : “During the three expeditions which I conducted in East Central Africa I saw nothing to suggest Mulims as a civilising power. Whatever living force might be in the religion remained latent. The Arabs, or their descendants, in these parts were not propagandists. There were no missionaries to preach Islam, and the natives of Muscat were content that their slaves should conform, to a certain extent, to the forms of the religion.
They left the East African tribes, who indeed, in their gross darkness, were evidently content to remain in happy ignorance. Their inaptitude for civilization was strikingly shown in the strange fact that five hundred years of contact with semi-civilized people had left them without the faintest reflection of the higher traits which characterized their neighbors—not a single good seed during all these years had struck root and flourished.”
Given up wholly to the pursuits of commerce or to slave-hunting, the Arabs in Eastern Africa exhibited a lukewarmness in promoting the interests of their faith, which is in striking contrast to the missionary zeal displayed by their co-religionists in other parts of Africa.
A notable exception is the propagandist activity of the Arab traders who were admitted into Uganda in the first half of the nineteenth century; they probably recognized that the sturdy independence of the Baganda made slave-raiding among them impossible, so they sought to gain their confidence by winning them over to their own faith. Many of the Baganda became Muslims during the reign of King Mutesa, but Stanleys visit to this monarch in 1875 led to the introduction of Christian missions in the following year, and the power of the Muslims in the state declined with the rapid increase in the numbers of the Christian converts and the establishment of a British Protectorate.
But a number of Muslims still hold important positions in Uganda, and it is stated that there is a possibility of the Eastern Province becoming Muslim. In the rich tributary country of Busoga, to the north of Uganda, a large number of those in authority were said, in 1906, to be Muslims. But with this exception Islam in East Equatorial Africa was up to the latter part of the nineteenth century confined to the coast-lands and the immediately adjoining country. The explanation would appear to be that it was not to the interests of the slave-dealers to spread Islam among the heathen tribes from among whom they obtained their unhappy victims; for, once converted to Islam, the native tribes would enter into the brotherhood of the faith and could not be raided and carried off as slaves.
The suppression of the slave-trade, with the extension of European rule over East Equatorial Africa, was followed by a remarkable expansion of Muslim missionary activity; peace and order were established in the interior, railways and high roads were made, and the peaceful Muslim trader could now make his way into districts hitherto closed to him.
- The administration selected its officials from among the more cultivated Muslim section of the population; thousands of posts were created by the government of German East Africa and given to Muslim officials, whose influence was used to bring over whole villages to Islam.
- The teachers of the state schools were likewise Muslims, and as early as the last decades of the nineteenth century Swahili schoolmasters were observed to be carrying on a lively and successful mission work among the people of Bondëi and the Wadigo (who dwell a little inland from the coast) in German East Africa. But it was in the beginning of the twentieth century, especially after the suppression of the insurrection of 1905 in German East Africa, that the activity of this new missionary movement became strikingly noticeable in the interior. This movement of expansion has especially followed the railroads and the great trade routes, and has spread right across German East Africa to its western boundary on Lake Tanganyika, northward from Usambara to the Kilimanjaro district, and southward to Lake Nyasa. The workers in this propaganda are merchants, especially Swahilis from the coast, soldiers and government officials.
- The acceptance of Islam is looked upon as a sign of an elevation to a higher civilization and social status, and the ridicule with which the pagans are regarded by the Muslims is said often to be a determining factor in their conversion.
An instance of the operation of this feeling may be taken from West Usambara, which was said in 1891 to be still closed to Islam; the feeling of both chiefs and people was hostile to the Muslims, who were hated and feared as slave-dealers ; but when the days of the slave-trade were over and an ordered administration was established, the first native officials appointed were almost entirely Muslims; they impressed upon the chiefs and other notables who came in touch with them that it was the correct thing for those who moved in official circles to be Muslims, and thereby achieved the conversion of some of the greater chiefs, who afterwards exercised a similar influence on chiefs of an inferior degree.
There seems to be little evidence of the activity of professional missionaries or of any of the religious orders, but there are not wanting evidences of systematic efforts, such as those of a Muslim teacher, who is reported to have regularly visited a district in the Kilimanjaro country every week for five months, preaching the faith of Islam; his ministrations were welcomed by the people, whom he entertained with feasts of rice, etc.
In this zealous propaganda it is noticeable that the preachers of Islam do not confine their attention to pagans only, but seek also to win converts from among the native Christians.
The Galla and the Somali
Islam has achieved a similar success among the Galla and the Somali. Mention has already been made of the Galla settlements in Abyssinia; these immigrants, who are divided into seven principal clans, with the generic name of Wollo-Galla, were probably all heathen at the time of their incursion into the country, and a large part of them remain so to the present day. After settling in Abyssinia they soon became naturalized there, and in many instances adopted the language, manners and customs of the original inhabitants of the country.
The story of their conversion is obscure: while some of them are said to have been forcibly baptized into the Christian faith, the absence of any political power in the hands of the Muslims precludes the possibility of any converts to Islam having been made in a similar fashion. In the eighteenth century, those in the south were said to be mostly Muslims, those to the east and west chiefly pagans.
More recent information points to a further increase in the number of the followers of the Prophet, and in 1867 Munzinger prophesied that in a short time all the Galla tribes would be Muslim, and as they were said to be “very fanatical,” we may presume that they were by no means half-hearted or lukewarm in their adherence to this religion.
The Galla freedman whom Doughty met at Khaybar certainly exhibited a remarkable degree of zeal for his own faith. He had been carried off from his home when a child and sold as a slave in Jiddah ;
|when Doughty asked him whether no anger was left in his heart against those who had stolen him and sold his life to servitude in the ends of the earth,
“Yet one thing,” he answered, “has recompensed me,—that I remained not in ignorance with the heathen!—Oh, the wonderful providence of Allah! whereby I am come to this country of the Apostle, and to the knowledge of the religion ! “
“Oh! what sweetness is there in believing! Trust me, dear comrade, it is a thing above that which any heart may speak; and would God thou wert come to this (heavenly) knowledge; but the Lord will surely have a care of thee, that thou shouldst not perish without the religion.
Ay, how good a thing it were to see thee a Muslim, and become one with us; but I know that the time is in God’s hand : the Lord’s Will be done.”
Among the Galla tribes of the true Galla country, the population is partly Muslim (some tribes having been converted about 1500) and partly heathen, with the exception of those tribes immediately bordering on Abyssinia who in the latter part of the nineteenth century were forced by the king of that country to accept Christianity.
Among the mountains, the Muslims are in a minority, but on the plains the missionaries of Islam have met with striking success, and their teaching found a rapidly increasing acceptance during the last century.
Antonio Cecchi, who visited the petty kingdom of Limmu in 1878, gives an account of the conversion of Abba Baghibo, the father of the then reigning chieftain, by Muslims who for some years had been pushing their proselytizing efforts in this country in the guise of traders. His example was followed by the chiefs of the neighboring Galla kingdoms and by the officers of their courts ; part of the common people also were won over to the new faith, and it continued to make progress among them, but the greater part cling firmly to their ancient cult.
These traders received a ready welcome at the courts of the Galla chiefs, inasmuch as they found them a market for the commercial products of the country and imported objects of foreign manufacture in exchange.
As they made their journeys to the coast once a year only, or even once in two years, and lived all the rest of the time in the Galla country, they had plenty of opportunities, which they knew well how to avail themselves of, for the work of propagating Islam, and wherever they set their foot they were sure in a short space of time to gain a large number of proselytes.
Islam here came in conflict with Christian missionaries from Europe, whose efforts, though winning for Christianity a few converts, have been crowned with very little success,—even the converts of Cardinal Massaja (after he was expelled from these parts) either embraced Islam or ended by believing neither in Christ nor in Allah,—whereas the Muslim missionaries achieved a continuous success, and pushed their way far to the south, and crossed the Wabi river.
The majority of the Galla tribes dwelling in the west of the Galla country were still heathen towards the end of the nineteenth century, but among the most westerly of them, viz. the Lega, the old nature worship appeared to be on the decline and the growing influence of the Muslim missionaries made it probable that within a few years the Lega would all have entered into the pale of Islam.
The North-East Africa
The North-East Africa of the present day presents indeed the spectacle of a remarkably energetic and zealous missionary activity on the part of the Muslims. Several hundreds of missionaries come from Arabia every year, and they have been even more successful in their labors among the Somali than among the Galla.
The close proximity of the Somali country to Arabia must have caused it very early to have been the scene of Muslim missionary labors, but of these unfortunately little record seems to have survived.
The people of Zayla were said by Ibn Ḥawqal in the second half the ninth century to be Christians, but in the first half of the fourteenth century. Abul-Fida speaks of them as being Muslims. The new faith was probably brought across the sea by Arab merchants or refugees. The Somalis of the north have a tradition of a certain Arab of noble birth who, compelled to flee his own country, crossed the sea to Adel, where he preached the faith of Islam among their forefathers.
In the fifteenth century a band of forty-four Arabs came as missionaries from Ḥaḍramawt, landing at Berberah on the Red Sea, and thence dispersed over the Somali country to preach Islam.
One of them, Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Zarbay, made his way to the city of Harar about A.D. 1430, and gained many converts there, and his tomb is still honored in that city. A hill near Berberah is still called the Mount of Saints in memory of these missionaries, who are said to have sat there in solemn conclave before scattering far and wide to the work of conversion.
Islam gradually became predominant throughout the whole of North-East Africa, but the growing power of the Emperor Menelik and his occupation of Harar in 1886 resulted in a certain number of conversions to Christianity.
In the Cape Colony
In order to complete this survey of Islam in Africa, it remains only to draw attention to the fact that this religion has also made its entrance into the extreme south of this continent, viz. in Cape Colony. These Muslims of the Cape are descendants of Malays, who were brought here by the Dutch either in the seventeenth or eighteenth century;
They speak a corrupt form of the Boer dialect, with a considerable admixture of Arabic, and some English and Malay words. A curious little book published in this dialect and written in Arabic characters was published in Constantinople in 1877 by the Turkish minister of education, to serve as a handbook of the principles of the Muslim faith.
The thoroughly Dutch names that some of them bear, and the type of face observable in many of them, point to the probability that they have at some time received into their community some persons of Dutch birth, or at least that they have in their veins a considerable admixture of Dutch blood. They have also gained some converts from among the Hottentots.
Very little notice has been taken of them by European travelers, or even by their co-religionists until recently. In 1819 Colebrooke had drawn attention to the growth of Islam in some interesting notes he wrote on the Cape Colony:
|“Islam is said to be gaining ground among the slaves and free people of color at the Cape; that is to say, more converts among negroes and blacks of every description are made from Paganism to the Islam, than to the Christian religion, notwithstanding the zealous exertions of pious missionaries.
One cause of this perversion is asserted to be a marked disinclination of slave owners to allow their slaves to be baptized; arising from some erroneous notions or overcharged apprehensions of the rights which a baptized slave acquires.
Slaves are certainly impressed with the idea that such a disinclination subsists, and it is not an unfrequent answer of a slave, when asked his motives for turning Muslim, that some religion he must have, and he is not allowed to turn Christian.
Prejudices in this respect are wearing away; and less discouragement is now given to the conversion of slaves than heretofore.
Masters, it is affirmed, begin to find that their slaves serve not the worse for instruction received in religious duties. Missionaries who devote themselves especially to the religious instruction of slaves (and there is one in each of the principal towns) have increasing congregations, and hope that their labors are not unfruitful.
But the Muslim priest, with less exertion, has a greater flock.”
During the last fifty years the Muslims in Cape Colony have been visited by some zealous co-religionists from other countries, and more attention is now paid by them to education, and a deeper religious life has been stirred up among them, and they are said to carry on a zealous propaganda, especially among the colored people at the Cape and to achieve a certain success.
This proselytizing movement is especially strong in the western part of Cape Colony. It is said that there is a movement on foot for the founding of a college at Claremont, in the vicinity of Cape Town, which shall become a center for the propagation of Islam. One of the methods at present employed is the adoption of neglected or abandoned children, who are brought up in the Muslim faith.
Every year some of them make the pilgrimage to Mecca, where a special Sheikh has been appointed to look after them. The Indian coolies that come to work in the diamond fields of South Africa are also said to be propagandists of Islam.
On account of its isolated position, 220 to 540 miles from the mainland, the island of Madagascar calls for separate mention. The only tribe that has adopted Islam is that of the Antaimorona, occupying a part of the south-east coast; they undoubtedly owed their conversion to missionaries from Arabia, but the date at which this change of faith took place is entirely unknown; tradition would carry it back to the very days of Muhammad himself, but it is not until the sixteenth century that we get, in the works of Italian and Portuguese geographers, authentic mention of Muslims on the island.
|From the historical sketch given above it may be seen that peaceful methods have largely characterized the Muslim missionary movement in Africa. And though Islam has often taken the sword as an instrument to further its spiritual conquests, such an appeal to violence and bloodshed has in most cases been preceded by the peaceful efforts of the missionary, and the preacher has followed the conqueror to complete the imperfect work of conversion.
It is true that the success of Islam has been very largely facilitated in many parts of Africa by the worldly successes of Muslim adventurers, and the erection of Muslim states on the ruins of pagan kingdoms, and fire and bloodshed have often marked the course of a Jihad, projected for the extermination of the infidel.
But there is the overwhelming testimony of travelers and others to the peaceful missionary preaching, and quiet and persistent labors of the Muslim propagandist, which have done more for the rapid spread of Islam in modern Africa than any violent measures: by the latter its opponents may indeed have been exterminated, but by the former chiefly, have its converts been made, and the work of conversion may still be observed in progress in many regions of the coast and the interior.
The Muslim missionary
Wherever Islam has made its way, there is the Muslim missionary to be found bearing witness to its doctrines,—the trader, be he Arab, Pul or Mandingo, who combines proselytism with the sale of his merchandise, and whose very profession brings him into close and immediate contact with those he would convert, and disarms any possible suspicion of sinister motives. Such a man when he enters a pagan village soon attracts attention by his frequent ablutions and regularly recurring times of prayer and prostration, in which he appears to be conversing with some invisible being, and by his very assumption of intellectual and moral superiority, commands the respect and confidence of the heathen people, to whom at the same time he shows himself ready and willing to communicate his high privileges and knowledge;—
- The ḥaji or pilgrim who has returned from Mecca full of enthusiasm for the spread of the faith, to which he devotes his whole energies, wandering about from place to place, supported by the alms of the faithful who bear witness to the truth in the midst of their pagan neighbors;—
- The student who, in consequence of his knowledge of Islamic theology and law, receives honor as a man of learning : sometimes, too, he practices medicine, or at least he is in great requisition as a writer of charms, texts from the Quran, which are sewn up in pieces of leather or cloth and tied on the arms, or round the neck, and which he can turn to account as a means of adding to the number of his converts : for instance, when childless women or those who have lost their children in infancy, apply for these charms, as a condition of success the obligation is always imposed upon them of bringing up their future children as Muslims.
- These religious teachers, or marabouts, or alufas as they are variously termed, are held in the highest estimation. In some tribes of Western Africa every village contains a lodge for their reception, and they are treated with the utmost deference and respect: in Darfur they hold the highest rank after those who fill the offices of government:
- Among the Mandingos they rank still higher, and receive honor next to the king, the subordinate chiefs being regarded as their inferiors in point of dignity: in those states in which the Quran is made the rule of government in all civil matters, their services are in great demand, in order to interpret its meaning.
- So sacred are the persons of these teachers esteemed, that they pass without molestation through the countries of chiefs, not only hostile to each other, but engaged in actual warfare. Such deference is not only paid to them in Muslim countries, but also in the pagan villages in which they establish their schools, where the people respect them as the instructors of their children, and look upon them as the medium between themselves and Heaven, either for securing a supply of their necessities, or for warding off or removing calamities.
- Many of these teachers have studied in the mosques of Qayrwan, Fas, Tripoli and other centers of Muslim learning; but especially in the mosque of al-Azhar in Cairo.
- Students flock to it from all parts of the Muslim world, and among them is often to be found a contingent from Negro Africa,—students from Darfur, Wadai and Bornu, and some who even make their way on foot from the far distant West Coast; when they have finished their courses of study in Muslim theology and jurisprudence, there are many of them who become missionaries among the heathen population of their native land.
- Schools are established by these missionaries in the towns they visit, which are frequented by the pagan as well as the Muslim children. They are taught to read the Quran, and instructed in the doctrines and ceremonies of Islam. Having thus gained a footing, the Muslim missionary, by his superior knowledge and attainments, is not slow to obtain great influence over the people among whom he has come to live.
- In this he is aided by the fact that his habits and manner of life are similar in many respects to their own, nor is he looked upon with suspicion, inasmuch as the trader has already prepared the way for him;
- and by intermarriage with the natives, being thus received into their social system, his influence becomes firmly rooted and permanent, and so in the most natural manner he gradually causes the knowledge of Islam to spread among them.
- His propagandist efforts are further facilitated by the fact that the deism which forms the background of the religious consciousness of many fetish-worshippers may pass by an easy transition into the theism of Islam, together with some other aspects of their theology, while their general outlook upon life and several of their religious institutions are capable of taking on a Muslim coloring and of being transferred to the new system of faith without undergoing much modification.
The arrival of the Muslim in a pagan country is also the beginning of the opening up of a more extensive trade, and of communication with great Muslim trading centers such as Jenne, Segu or Kano, and a share in the advantages of this material civilization is offered, together with the religion of the Prophet.
Thus “among the uncivilized negro tribes the missionary may be always sure of a ready audience: he can not only give them many truths regarding God and man which make their way to the heart and elevate the intellect, but he can at once communicate the Shibboleth of admission to a social and political communion, which is a passport for protection and assistance from the Atlantic to the Wall of China.
Wherever a Muslim house can be found there the negro convert who can repeat the dozen syllables of his creed, is sure of shelter, sustenance and advice, and in his own country he finds himself at once a member of an influential, if not of a dominant caste.
This seems the real secret of the success of the Muslim missionaries in West Africa. It is great and rapid as regards numbers, for the simple reason that the Muslim missionary, from the very first profession of the converts belief, acts practically on those principle? regarding the equality and brotherhood of all believers before God, which Islam shares with Christianity;
and he does this, as a general rule, more speedily and decidedly than the Christian missionary, who generally feels bound to require good evidence of a converted heart before he gives the right hand of Christian fellowship, and who has always to contend with race prejudices not likely to die out in a single generation where the white Christian has for generations been known as master, and the black heathen as slave.”
It is important, too, to note that neither his color nor his race in any way prejudice the Negro in the eyes of his new co-religionists. The progress of Islam in Negritia has no doubt been materially advanced by this absence of any feeling of repulsion towards the Negro—indeed Islam seems never to have treated the Negro as an inferior, as has been unhappily too often the case in Christendom.
This consideration goes partly to explain the success of Muslim as contrasted with Christian missions among the Negro peoples. It has frequently been pointed out that the Negro convert to Christianity is apt to feel that his European co-religionists belong to a stratum of civilization alien to his own habits of life, whereas he feels himself to be more at home in a Muslim society.
This has been well stated by a modern observer, in the following passage :—
|“Islam, despite its shortcomings, does not, from the Nigerian point of view, demand race suicide of the Nigerian as an accompaniment of conversion.
It does not stipulate revolutionary changes in social life, impossible at the present stage of Nigerian development; nor does it undermine family or communal authority.
Between the converter and converted there is no abyss. Both are equal, not in theory, but in practice, before God. Both are African; sons of the soil.
The doctrine of the brotherhood of man is carried out in practice. Conversion does not mean for the converted a break with his interests, his family, his social life, his respect for the authority of his natural rulers. . . .
No one can fail to be impressed with the carriage, the dignity of the Nigerian—indeed of the West African—Muslim; the whole bearing of the man suggests a consciousness of citizenship, a pride of race which seems to say: We are different, thou and I, but we are men.
The spread of Islam in Southern Nigeria which we are witnessing to-day is mainly social in its action. It brings to those with whom it comes in contact a higher status, a loftier conception of man’s place in the universe around him, release from the thraldom of a thousand superstitious fears.”
Thus, the converted Negro at once takes an equal place in the brotherhood of believers, neither his color nor his race nor any associations of the past standing in the way.
It is doubtless the ready admission they receive, that makes the pagan Negroes willing to enter into a religious society whose higher civilization demands that they should give up many of their old barbarous habits and customs; at the same time the very fact that the acceptance of Islam does imply an advance in civilization and is a very distinct step in the intellectual, moral and material progress of a Negro tribe, helps very largely to explain the success of this faith.
The forces arrayed on its side are so powerful and ascendant, that the barbarism, ignorance and superstition which it seeks to sweep away have little chance of making a lengthened resistance.
What the civilization of Muslim Africa implies to the Negro convert:
What the civilization of Muslim Africa implies to the Negro convert, is admirably expressed in the following words: “The worst evils which, there is reason to believe, prevailed at one time over the whole of Africa, and which are still to be found in many parts of it, and those, too, not far from the Gold Coast and from our own settlements—cannibalism and human sacrifice and the burial of living infants—disappear at once and for ever.
- Natives who have hitherto lived in a state of nakedness, or nearly so, begin to dress, and that neatly;
- natives who have never washed before begin to wash, and that frequently; for ablutions are commanded in the Sacred Law, and it is an ordinance which does not involve too severe a strain on their natural instincts.
- The tribal organization tends to give place to something which has a wider basis. In other words, tribes coalesce into nations, and, with the increase of energy and intelligence, nations into empires.
- Many such instances could be adduced from the history of the Sudan and the adjoining countries during the last hundred years. If the warlike spirit is thus stimulated, the centers from which war springs are fewer in number and further apart. War is better organized, and is under some form of restraint; quarrels are not picked for nothing; there is less indiscriminate plundering and greater security for property and life. Elementary schools, like those described by Mungo Park a century ago, spring up, and even if they only teach their scholars to recite the Quran , they are worth something in themselves, and may be a step to much more.
- The well-built and neatly-kept mosque, with its call to prayer repeated five times a day, its Mecca-pointing niche, its Imam and its weekly service, becomes the center of the village, instead of the ghastly fetish or Juju house.
- The worship of one God, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and compassionate, is an immeasurable advance upon anything which the native has been taught to worship before.
- The Arabic language, in which the Muslim scriptures are always written, is a language of extraordinary copiousness and beauty; once learned it becomes a lingua franca to the tribes of half the continent, and serves as an introduction to literature, or rather, it is a literature in itself.
- It substitutes moreover, a written code of law for the arbitrary caprice of a chieftain—a change which is, in itself, an immense advance in civilization.
- Manufactures and commerce spring up, not the dumb trading or the elementary bartering of raw products which we know from Herodotus to have existed from the earliest times in Africa, nor the cowrie shells, or gunpowder, or tobacco, or rum, which still serve as a chief medium of exchange all along the coast, but manufactures involving considerable skill, and a commerce which is elaborately organized;
- and under their influence, and that of the more settled government which Islam brings in its train, there have arisen those great cities of Negro-land whose very existence, when first they were described by European travelers, could not but be half discredited.
- I am far from saying that the religion is the sole cause of all this comparative prosperity. I only say it is consistent with it, and it encourages it.
- Climatic conditions and various other influences co-operate towards the result; but what has Pagan Africa, even where the conditions are very similar, to compare with it?
- As regards the individual, it is admitted on all hands that Islam gives to its new Negro converts an energy, a dignity, a self-reliance, and a self-respect which is all too rarely found in their Pagan or their Christian fellow-countrymen.”
The words above quoted were written before the partition of the greater part of Africa among the governments of Christian Europe—England, France and Germany—but the imposing character of Muslim civilization has not ceased to impress the Negro mind, or to operate as one of the influences favorable to the conversion of the African fetish-worshippers. Brought suddenly into contact with European culture, these have received an impulse to advance in the path of civilization, but being unable to bridge over the gulf that separates them from their foreign rulers, they find in Islam a culture corresponding to their needs and capable of understanding their requirements and aspirations. So far, therefore, from the extension of European domination tending to hamper the activities of Muslim propagandists, it has to a very remarkable degree contributed towards the progress of Islam. The bringing of peace to countries formerly harassed by wars of extermination or the raids of slave-hunters, the establishment of ordered methods of government and administration, and the increased facilities of communication by the making of roads and the building of railways, have given a great stimulus to trade and have enabled that active propagandist, the Muslim trader, to extend his influence in districts previously untrodden, and traverse familiar ground with greater security. Further, the suppression of the slave-trade has removed one of the great obstacles to the spread of Islam in pagan Africa, because it was to the interest of the Arab and other Muslim slave-dealers not to narrow the field of their operations by admitting their possible victims into the brotherhood of Islam. Converts are now won from pagan tribes which in the days of the slave-trade were untouched by missionary effort. To this result the European governments have contributed by employing Muslims to fill the subordinate posts in the civil administration (since among the Muslims alone were educated persons to be found) and distributing them throughout pagan districts, by employing Muslim teachers in the Government schools, and by recruiting their armies from among Muslim tribes; they have thus added to the prestige of Islam in the eyes of the pagan Africans—a circumstance that the Muslims have not been slow to make use of, to the advantage of their own faith.
So little truth is there in the statement that Islam makes progress only by force of arms, that on the contrary the partition of Africa among the European powers, who have wrested the sword from the hands of the Muslim chiefs now under their control, has initiated a propaganda which seems likely to succeed where centuries of Muslim domination have failed.